Woodworking in the great white north.

Rockler downdraft table panels – review

As long as there are home renovations and sanding of wood to be done, workshop dust control will continue to be a problem for me.  My battle against dust has a long and varied history and I expect it will continue to evolve along with my ever changing approach to woodworking.

One step in the right direction came some time ago, when I came across a link to the Rockler downdraft table panels I was drawn in (no pun intended) on a number of levels: 

  • First off, it appears to address a problem I routinely had – sanding creates a big mess in my shop, even with a shopvac attached to a power sander. 
  • Second, this is one of those do-it-yourself workshop projects – just call me an addict. 
  • Lastly, I’d looked at conventional downdraft tables and they are far, far out of my price range.

After doing a bit of research, I felt that this was worth a try.  This wouldn’t solve the problem on its own, but it could potentially help a lot with removing ambient light dust at the source.  I was also quite impressed that Rockler provided instructions for building a downdraft box in which to use the panels.

I picked up a set of panels at Rockler and was glad that I had noticed that one ‘set’ of panels consists of only two panels, not the four required by the Rockler plans.  This is my only gripe with the entire thing, they should really make it blatantly obvious that you need to buy two sets of panels.  The plans do say you need two sets, but it is easy to miss this.

The panels themselves are pretty well built.  Enamel coated steel panels with holes perforating the surface.  Every other hole contains a rubber ring that acts as a high friction surface to hold the workpiece still while you do your sanding (or routing for that matter).  In addition to these, each panel comes with a pair of plastic ‘dogs’ that I can only describe as a nut and bolt.  The purpose of these is to act like a bench dog to keep the workpiece from moving around.  These ‘dogs’ can be placed in any of the non-rubber-ring holes and will stand proud of the surface just enough to catch the edge of a workpiece. 

The fit and finish of all parts was good, the enamel is consistent and smooth along the sharp edges of the metal.  My only complaint about the quality here is that the plastic dog bolts have a kind of cheap look and feel, but I don’t see it as a significant issue, mostly cosmetic.

The plans for building the box were very straightforward and worked like a charm.  I built the box out of roughly half a sheet of 1/2″ mdf and the entire build process took me less than an hour.  The four panels drop into place easily and fit snugly. 

Recognizing that not all workpieces will need the entire table, I also cut out three mdf panels that are the same size as a downdraft panel, allowing me to swap out a downdraft panel for an mdf panel to get better suction out of the remaining panels.  Three mdf panels gives me the flexibility to have one, two, three or four downdraft panels in place at any given time, depending on the need.

To test it out, I started with all four panels in place  and hooked up my Rockler wall mounted dust collector using the 10′ flex hose. 

  • Hand sanding was clearly working quite well, I could see the dust being sucked into the panels right away. 
  • Using a small electric pad sander, I got similar results although using a bright light after I could see that some fine dust was escaping and becoming airborne. 
  • Using a larger 5″ RO sander at high rpms was somewhat less effective, but still managed to suck a fair bit of the dust out of the way. 

Reducing the number of downdraft panels did make a difference, but if you’re using a high powered sander, you’re basically fighting the speed of the sander – the faster it throws the dust, the less likely it is that you’ll catch it all. 

Despite a very good tight fit inside the box, the panels do vibrate a fair bit when using a power sander, adding to the noise that the sander and dust collector make.  There are any number of ways to deal with this, but given the noise generated by the power tools, you’ll want hearing protection anyway.

In summary:

  • The panels are well built and have good fit and finish.
  • The free plans for the box are also good – both in design and instruction.
  • Unless you’re doing a lot of high speed removal of material, the panels with the box make for a good addition to the power tool workshop and will help in the ongoing battle against wood dust.

All in all, I’m happy I bought them and built their downdraft box.  It does not remove the need for other protection from ambient dust, but it goes a long way in reducing the amount of dust that ends up on the bench and in the air. 

Two slightly less dusty thumbs up….good work Rockler.

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11 responses

  1. Ian, I am so excited to see this review. I have been on the verge of ordering these things from Rockler about 100 times, but never took action. Now that I know they are worth the trouble, I am going to follow your example. Thanks so much!

    December 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    • Aaron…if you don’t need the full area of the 4 piece table, you could get away with a smaller version using 2. I saw it at a show a couple of weeks ago and it looked good for doing small items. Depends what you plan to work on.

      December 10, 2010 at 9:14 am

  2. Ian,
    Nicely done. I’ll certainly consider these panels if & when I get around to a down draft table.

    December 3, 2010 at 9:13 pm

  3. I’m guessing that you wouldn’t recommend a shop vac as your source of suction :). If I ever manage to get myself a dust collector I’ll be looking into these. Thanks for the write up on top of what you told me before.

    December 3, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    • Actually, a decent shop vac should do an ok job. The DC certainly moves more air, but I think a shop vac would probably do a decent job of sucking down the fine dust. Especially if you’re using a power sander that has a bag attached…you’ll get a good amount of the gunk out of the air.

      I’ll give it a try and let you know how they compare.

      December 10, 2010 at 9:17 am

  4. Rick

    I’ve often tried to set up a dust hood (the big square things from Rockler) to create an air flow to pull in ambient dust while sanding. This works only if you can get it close enough to the workpiece.

    Would modifying the design to and a “slot” on the long edge of the box help to create this along with the down draft and still leave enough suction?

    The holes would be down-draft, the slot would face the person, pulling air horizontally. Make sense??

    Rick

    December 10, 2010 at 10:21 am

    • Ya, that could work. Given the amount of open space in the table top, I don’t think he slot will have too much of a negative impact, it would be ‘last’ to get suction anyway with the vac port on the back. I think it could work out really well if you’ve got a pretty decent cyclone to draw a lot of air through the box.

      That could dictate sloping the box cavity from front to back as well as up the sides. Hmmm…I’d need to dig out my compound miter calculator to figure out how to do that properly.

      December 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm

  5. Holy smokes, I love the review! You seriously made me want to buy one, I have been pushed over the edge after reading your post. I will have to show my dad this link to see if he agrees. Hopefully he does so we can get this in our shop asap, I can’t wait! Thanks for the amazingly detailed write up. Best of luck!

    December 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

    • Thanks Lisa, glad that the review was helpful.

      January 10, 2011 at 1:19 pm

  6. Garry from Calgary, Alberta, Canada

    Ian,

    Thanks for the very detailed review of the construction and testing of the Rockler filtration panels. I have been doing a fair bit of research on what seems to work. I have a 1 1/2 hp Oneida dust gorilla with lots of suction and the hope is to make something portable since shop space is limited. it sounds like the system you built works fairly well. Does the work piece get held ok without using the dogs? What do you think of using the Rockler design with the Oneida unit or a unit of similar horsepower? Many thanks for your excellent information. It is surprising that there is so little good information available on what I consider to be one of the most critical safety issues in any work shop.

    Garry in Calgary

    January 16, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    • Thanks Garry,

      The rubber grippy grommets are ‘ok’ at holding the piece in place, but not perfect. When I use a small palm sander, there’s no issue, the piece doesn’t move. When I use my 5″ ROS I need to either use the dogs or a free hand to keep the workpiece from moving around.

      Next time I need to use it I’m going to try putting Bench Cookies down on it. It should hold things better, but might have a slight negative affect on the effectiveness of the suction.

      Rockler could do a great upgrade by replacing the rubber grommets with some of the neoprene rubber they use on Bench Cookies. Another alternative could be to use pieces of a router/sanding mat to improve the friction…I’ll try that too!

      January 17, 2011 at 11:03 am

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